Drew Benvie of Battenhall talks social media, the future of PR and running the next great agency
Drew Benvie brings over 17 years of PR experience to his role as founder and MD of Battenhall, a brand communications agency for the social media age. Following the success of our Global Power Book #PRProSeries, we continue the series exploring the careers of the most powerful communications pros around the world today. Sarah Hadj, Senior Consultant at Hanson Search, sits down with Drew to find out how he made it in the industry.
Why did you get into communications?
I stumbled into PR really. When I was at university, I studied business and so I thought I should work in finance. I applied for graduate schemes and internships, and while all my friends were getting snapped up, I failed miserably. At that time a good friend was finishing a one-year placement in a PR role she said that I should apply for it. She seemed to think PR would suit me better than banking, and would be my kind of thing. So I applied for it, got it and have stuck with PR ever since.
What personal attributes have most helped you in your career?
If I was to say I had one superpower it’s that I can work an endless amount. I'm pretty much working all the time and have always been like that. It’s not just about putting in hours it’s about having that thirst for your work. If you enjoy what you do work is more like play. If you want to get into PR, there are three things you need to do – work hard, stand out and innovate. Don’t fade into the background. There’s so much change in the PR space that if you don’t innovate you’ll fail. They are three things I try to do and I’d recommend others to do too.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Technology. After my first one-year placement in PR, I got a job in a dot-com start-up in the late 90s when that was a big thing. I did PR for an Internet startup that was like a b2b version of eBay. It was hard, what they did wasn’t well understood. But the company became pretty famous and got bought out by a big German company for a huge amount. That made it a big story, and when the dust settled on the deal and people started to move on, I realised the job wasn’t going to last forever so I began looking for my next challenge. I moved to a tech PR agency and began working on developing a specialism in B2B software PR. This was what originally got me into social media, as B2B software influencers were the first bloggers, way before social networks existed. Having tech knowledge is a real asset now though it wasn’t so cool back then. I’ve never really fitted into the average PR crowd. For me, tech is a big challenge, but also a big opportunity.
Who is the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
I haven’t worked with them, but I’d say, my mum and dad. My dad was a techie, a mechanical engineer who worked with machines his whole life. My mum was very entrepreneurial. She is from Spain and moved from the UK to find work when she was a teenager. I grew up seeing this hard working entrepreneurial team. They didn’t set up their own business but they did work very hard and they’re the reason I called the company Battenhall as that’s where I grew up. To me, it’s a nod to the values that were drummed into me as a boy growing up.
What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?
When I was at my first agency job, I had a boss who always told me that the most important thing was to surprise and delight – that was her catch-phrase. It was about surprising and delighting clients, in terms of quality, results and delivering the goods. Most agencies are paid on results. If you don’t get the results you’re out of a job, but if you aren't the best, you won't win new clients either, so you always really have to delight your clients. It’s all about providing things they wouldn’t have been able to get from any other consultant.
Where do you think the industry will be in 10 years’ time?
I founded Battenhall because I thought there was a gap in the market for an agency with an in-depth knowledge of social. I think by being good at what is currently a specialism you can eventually help your clients with everything. We might start off doing social media but we will then run global product launches, building websites, managing celebrities, or developing tech. We’re doing social, copy, press releases – everything. Every single person in our team has broad skills so when a client comes to us and asks us what they need to do to stand out, we know the answers. I think social at the moment is a specialist area, but in the future, it will be indispensable. In 10 years we’ll see a world where social media is commonplace in the mainstream and the new areas that will develop into must-have specialisms will include artificial intelligence, which we're already starting to see an impact on how companies communicate with customers through 'chat bots', for example.
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
I have asked my colleagues to answer this. The ones that know me too well said: caffeinated, ridiculous and douchebag. Those that were aware this was going in print said: innovator, resilient and leader.
What is your dream global communications job?
My dream is to run the next great agency. I think we’re on our way. We’re really lucky to work with an awesome bunch of clients. The work we do is global and multi-discipline; next steps will be gaining new disciplines. We also want to move into new industries and develop new expertise.
How can we help?
If you are looking for the best talent in PR and communications, please don’t hesitate to contact me via LinkedIn below or on firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential discussion.